Fools who keep quiet are deemed wise;
those who shut their lips are smart. ~Proverbs 17:28
I’m going to be honest with you, I love to hear myself talk. I think it’s a fairly common characteristic among folks in ministry. We put a lot of time and effort into our messages, Bible studies, and other duties. In the midst of that, we often come to the point where we consider ourselves to be somewhat authoritative on certain matters. And, too often, that’s where we get ourselves in trouble.
Recently, there have been a couple of controversial decisions made by local United Methodist congregations in regards to matters concerning homosexuality. The first had to do with a church cutting its ties with the Boy Scouts of America. Bishop Michael Coyner actually made a statement encouraging local churches to continue partnering with the Scouts. So, it was confusing to have a local church cut ties and use the Discipline as a defense to support their decision. Of course, each local church can make its own decisions on these matters.
This week, another congregation made a decision to not allow Pride Lafayette to be a part of their community celebration. When the pastor was interviewed by the local media, he started off with a statement that was appropriate. He simply stated that it was a community event and Pride Lafayette was not really a part of that particular community. However, he kept talking. And, that’s when things got a little sketchy.
The quote shared by local media outlets stated that the pastor looked at the mission of Pride Lafayette and found that it was not in line with our Discipline and that influenced the decision.
The problem in both of these cases is that when local congregations make bold declarations, they are doing it on behalf of all United Methodist churches in the community…at least as far as the typical viewer/reader is concerned. And, in both cases, the pastors used portions of the Discipline’s statement and not the whole in order to support their interpretation.
Our more conservative brothers and sisters are quick to jump on the following statement, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” And, while that is a part of our statement regarding human sexuality, it is not the whole. It seems as though they see the denomination shifting views and becoming more and more welcoming and affirming towards our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters. So, they are doing all they can to take bold stands that may not fully reflect the tone of the denomination as a whole. Using a broader portion of the statement gives a clearer view of our attempts at a grace-filled approach to issues of sexuality.
The often quoted paragraph (161.F) states, “We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”
“All persons are individuals of sacred worth…All persons need the ministry of the Church…We affirm that God’s grace is available to all…We will seek to live together in Christian community…We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends…We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”
Hmm…so how does that support cutting ties with the Scouts? How does that support excluding Pride from your event? It sounds like the Discipline actually calls us to be in ministry “for and with” everyone…regardless of race, socio-economic level, gender, sexual preference, etc…
I was extremely proud of my Sr. Pastor, Scott Mann, for attempting to speak words of grace, peace, and clarity. Scott said, “It is extremely disappointing to hear of yet another fringe United Methodist congregation in the Lafayette area taking an extreme position on the issue of homosexuality. The hearts of nearly all United Methodist’s are with and for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation. You are our brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters and we both love you and welcome you.”
The issue with Pride Lafayette probably would not have snowballed had the pastor stopped talking after making the statement that Pride Lafayette was not fully associated with their particular community.
Now, I’ve seen folks from the church saying that the pastor was misrepresented and that they edited out more graceful statements. However, the pastor put himself in the position to be misquoted and misunderstood.
This serves as a warning to us all…be very careful in what we say and don’t say.